DOVER, Del – Casey Mears is normally the driver watching Cup races on TV.
He’ll be in the car at Dover International Speedway while Brian Vickers sits this one out.
Mears was needed in a pinch this weekend because Vickers, his friend and Red Bull Racing driver, is hospitalized with blood clots in his veins around his lungs and in his legs.
His Chase for the championship chances are all but gone, but he has more pressing concerns.
“Dealing with that and doing that right is way more important than being here at the track right now,” Mears said Friday. “It’s never fun to be watching races at home. I’m sure that will wear on him.”
Mears knows how Vickers feels.
Mears qualified for only two races this season and has bounced around after sponsorship cutbacks cost him his job at Richard Childress Racing. He was on standby after Denny Hamlin had surgery to repair a torn ACL, and he’ll drive week to week for Tommy Baldwin’s No. 36 car as long as Baldwin can find funding for each race.
He drove the first two months of the season for underfunded Keyed-Up Motorsports.
“It’s been crazy, it really has,” Mears said. “Obviously, not what I want. I want something solid and I want to run all season. At the same time, there’s been parts of it that have been fun. It’s enlightened me a lot on what other guys are doing, different teams are doing. In a lot of ways, I learned a lot this year.”
Red Bull Racing general manager Jay Frye said Vickers is on medication and was hopeful of being released from the hospital on Friday, but could remain there a few more days. Frye said there is “no timetable” for Vickers’ return.
“He’s got great reason for optimism that everything’s going to be fine,” Frye said.
Frye said Vickers complained of discomfort on his chest and went to a hospital in Washington. He says the team is not sure what caused the clots.
The 26-year-old Vickers is in his seventh full season racing in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. He has two career Cup wins and made the 12-driver Chase for the championship last season. He’s ranked 20th in the standings. Missing a start almost certainly will make it impossible for Vickers to make the Chase this season.
“It is a minor setback in a young man’s life and career,” Frye said. “Obviously, it’s a major setback for our race team this weekend.”
Jimmie Johnson said Vickers sounded like his usual self when they spoke Thursday night.
“There’s still a lot of question marks and concerns and trying to understand just what in the world is going on,” Johnson said. “Until they can find out what’s going on, there’s a lot of worry and concern.”
Mears will replace Vickers in the No. 83 Toyota. Frye said Mears will drive for RBR for as long as the team needs him. Frye did not know if Mears would be allowed to drive for Vickers in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, if needed.
Frye said even if Vickers was released before Sunday’s race, running at least one lap for points was not an option.
Red Bull Racing was smart to bench Vickers, according to a physician who specializes in venous disease. Suresh Vedantham, a professor of interventional radiology at Washington University School of Medicine, said there are risks that could occur if he competed.
“If he were to get banged up, trauma can promote further blood clotting,” he said. “If he’s known to have blood clots, he’s probably using blood-thinning drugs. If he was banged up, he’d be particularly prone to a severe bleeding complication.”
Vedantham said there are about 300,000 new cases of reported blood clots each year. He credited Vickers for seeking immediate medical treatment and not trying to drive one lap or 400 miles on the concrete.
Johnny Sauter qualified 41st in the Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 36 Chevrolet. Mears, who qualified 39th, was happy to help Red Bull in a pinch.
“The opportunity to help out a friend was a good opportunity,” Mears said.
Mears would like to find more regular work. He was 14th in the 2006 standings with Chip Ganassi, then moved to Hendrick Motorsports and won the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 in 2007 on Memorial Day.
Mears signed with RCR after he was let go by team owner Rick Hendrick to make room for Mark Martin. He was 21st last season.
“It feels good that teams and drivers feel like I’d be the best guy to put in for the time being,” Mears said. “Hopefully, we can get in a good scenario again where the sponsorship’s there and we can go racing again.”